UPDATE June 8, 2018
Earlier this week the President signed into law the “VA MISSION Act,” a bill that will extend eligibility for VA’s comprehensive caregiver assistance program to veterans severely injured before September 11, 2001. The approval of this legislation marks an historical expansion of the VA caregiver program and is a huge leap forward towards providing fairness to all veteran caregivers. It took years of debate, collaboration and finally compromise, but soon thousands more catastrophically injured veterans of all eras—and their caregivers—will become eligible for critical programs and services that they were once denied. While we will continue this fight in the years ahead to ensure that no veteran or unsung hero is left behind, this was a major victory and we couldn’t have done it without advocates like you.
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DAVE & YVONNE RILEY
Like many husbands, each day for Dave Riley begins and ends with his wife—Yvonne. But for the Army and Coast Guard veteran, it’s only because of his wife that he is able to get out of bed every morning and rest comfortably at night.
“Usually I wake him up, get his shirt on and put his arms on,” said Yvonne, who has served as Dave’s primary caregiver since the event that took all four of his limbs two decades ago. “I brush his teeth, shave him and comb his hair, get him something to eat and get his legs on and he’s all set for the day.”
In 1997, Dave contracted a rare bacterial infection during his service in the Coast Guard, resulting in the loss of his arms and legs as well as several of his internal organs. Without any formal training, Yvonne was instantly plunged into the deep end of caregiving for her critically injured husband—from wound care and prescription management to personal hygiene and dressing.
“She allows me to get up, get dressed, get all my prosthetics on and walk among the people like an equal,” said Dave.
In addition to providing round-the-clock care for her husband, managing all the household tasks and chores falls to Yvonne as well.
“She takes a lot of that load for me. But as we get older I can see it getting nothing but harder,” said Dave. “She’s probably aged a lot more than me because there’s so much that she has to do and has to worry about.”
Caregiving is as much a physical job as it is an emotional one, often requiring a great deal of lifting and providing mobility assistance. Many veterans also experience continued deterioration of their service-connected injuries as well as additional complications as they age.
“It probably will get a lot harder as he gets older, but we’ll have to deal with that one day at a time when we get there.”
Despite the considerable progress Dave has made functioning with his prosthetic limbs, he will always rely on Yvonne for many of his basic needs. For caregivers, this often puts their own needs on the back burner and puts them almost entirely on the veteran’s schedule.
“You get mad at each other and you’re in the middle of a bath, you can’t just walk away. You’ve got to either finish the fight or the bath,” Yvonne joked.
Caregiving, Dave notes, is a choice. Yvonne made the decision two decades ago to dedicate herself to her husband’s well-being, despite the sacrifices she would have to make.
“When I needed her most, she was there for me. And she has continued to support me through every challenge since,” said Dave. “She chose to take care of me, just about her whole life. She, and all caregivers, are truly unsung American heroes.”
It’s because of these sacrifices, day in and day out, Dave said he believes the nation owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to caregivers.
“As a quadruple amputee, a lot of people ask about and thank me for my service,” said Dave. No one ever stops to thank my wife for the decades of service she’s given this country in taking care of me. That’s something we need to change.”